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Have you got a question about smart meters? Post your questions to Paul Nickson, Commercial Director of British Gas Smart Metering and you'll be entered into a draw to win £100 voucher for John Lewis - ANSWERS BACK

(75 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 19-Sep-13 09:20:11

Paul Nickson MBE is going to be on-hand this week to answer questions about smart meters, whether its about how they work or what you can expect on the day of installation. Post your questions to Paul before midday on Wednesday 25th September and you'll be entered into a draw to win £100 voucher for John Lewis. We'll upload his answers on 2nd October.

Paul Nickson is the Commercial Director of British Gas Smart Metering and joined the company earlier this year. His focus within British Gas is to make customers aware of the smart meter roll-out, the benefits of smart meters and how they can get the best out of being a smart meter customer. Paul says: I believe that smart meters represent a tangible opportunity to make energy simpler for our customers as they bring the benefit of insight into gas and electricity as well as eliminating the need for manual meter readings. Im looking forward to answering your questions so that youre aware of what smart meters represent for our energy future. The upside for me is that Ill learn more about what matters to you in the context of this program and your top questions or doubts.

This Q&A is sponsored by British Gas

MothershipG Mon 23-Sep-13 21:18:04

My existing meters are in a very awkward place and would cost a ridiculous amount to move. If I get a smart meter can I choose where it goes?

Does it have to be in the same place as the existing ones and if it does how often will access be required seeing as reading can be done remotely?

CheeryCherry Mon 23-Sep-13 21:52:49

How much will it cost to have the meter installed? And will this pricing be clear and standard? We had British Gas install our central heating last year, and were told how great the remote controls were that were compatible with our new boiler .... then were shocked that they charged us £200 extra! Will this meter be compulsory and can I opt out of the 3rd party details?

flamingtoaster Mon 23-Sep-13 22:38:00

Technology is wonderful if it works. What is the reliability rate of these Smart Meters? What happens if the electronic element of the Meter becomes faulty - does the whole meter - and thus the Gas go off?

I dislike the idea of anything simple and reliable being replaced by something much more complicated.

Tianc Mon 23-Sep-13 23:00:44

OK, this was supposed to be Qs for British Gas. So here are mine.

• What is your Disaster Plan for Smart Meters being "bricked" en masse in an adverse remote reprogramming incident?

• Will you be asking customers to reboot the Meters, or will British Gas technicians have to access premises to reboot or replace every BG Smart Meter installed in the UK?

• What is the predicted timescale for 100% of people affected to have fully functioning, up-to-date Smart Meters after such an incident?

NB An adverse reprogramming event could be a malicious attack or simply a failed software update or bad interaction with third party app, as happened memorably to RBS, NatWest & Ulster Bank last year, and to Sony DVD recorders this July.

A Smart Meter bricking would combine the worst of these events. The number of people affected would be similar to the RBS upgrade failure, which stopped transactions. But the problem couldn’t be fixed centrally and each individual Smart Meter would have to be fixed separately, like the Sony units.

Oh, and cutting people’s power off has rather more serious outcomes than stopping bank transactions.

everydayineveryway Mon 23-Sep-13 23:08:42

It'll be like the roll-out of national computer systems, eg the NHS one. Absolute bloody disaster. Don't get caught up in it.

PuzzleRocks Mon 23-Sep-13 23:12:45

Tianc has said everything I would care to say on the matter. I ordered a smart meter over a year ago but in the time it took to arrive in the post I decided to read up on them. The postman handed it over and it went straight in the bin.

everydayineveryway Mon 23-Sep-13 23:35:39

When some government minister came on here a while ago to push us into having Smart Meters, all Tianc's points were breathlessly brushed aside as wrong in every aspect, or some such term.

A more considered response to her posts would be nice this time around.

missorinoco Tue 24-Sep-13 00:41:18

What is so good about no manual meter readings?

I keep looking into smart meters, and both British Gas and Eon have written to me inviting me to have one (but somehow I never get one). The only benefit as far as I can see is that I don't have to submit a meter reading. This saves me five minutes every three months. I already pay my bills by monthly direct debit. Is the benefit that my direct debit doesn't get dropped, then upped again, following my usage across the year?

I note the list above, but no one even pretends to offer me a meter reading any more, so that's hardly a saving.

Sorry, I know I sound critical, but I feel like I am missing the point.

GiraffesAndButterflies Tue 24-Sep-13 05:43:55

Which magazine ran a feature a short while back where they invited various professionals to calculate which was the best energy tariff for them. They also got the Edexcel Chair of GCSE Maths to comment on the complexity of the maths required to do this. The overwhelming conclusion was that energy tariff comparison had become much, much too complicated. Martin Lewis has commented to the same effect.

Can you please show us an example calculation of working out energy costs on different tariffs with a smart meter, so that we can be given confidence the industry has truly taken these findings on board and made things easier?

MackerelOfFact Tue 24-Sep-13 08:12:53

Are smart meters optional? Will there be a full changeover at which point the traditional meters will no longer be used at all?

SuperiorCat Tue 24-Sep-13 09:15:54

"magnumicelolly Mon 23-Sep-13 21:16:30
Why don't you just not bother giving everyone a smart meter, and use the money saved to cut our bills?"

^ This now ^that would be a benefit to the consumer.

I don't want my appliances knackered by someone messing around remotely with the power to my home.

I don't want to suffer in one of the scenarios that Tianc outlined.

QuintessentialShadows Tue 24-Sep-13 09:22:15

I think Paul Nickson should read my comment on the testing thread and maybe address how their staff conduct business.

TensionWheelsCoolHeels Tue 24-Sep-13 14:54:56

Daily Mail Link

Thought it would be worth posting this link (even if it is the DM) as it demonstrates the very scenario Tianc posted about - people being cut off, leaving vulnerable people at huge risk as a result. The story linked is about a man who was cut off from power by npower, in -10 weather, where npower 'failed to recognise' the man as being vulnerable. He went out and got a generator to keep warm, and died from carbon monoxide poisoning. From Tianc's links, it's clear to see how much more of a problem this would be, where the power company does not have to go to court to get someone's power cut off, and instead just flicks a switch.

QuintessentialShadows Tue 24-Sep-13 15:12:59

Is it not a bit disingenuous to get people to pay for all these energy saving extras you are suggesting people buy at high interest, rather than just lower the prices?

What is the link between the fuel prices, the goverments failure to regulate the prices, and the heavy sponsoring of political parties?

HowardTJMoon Tue 24-Sep-13 15:50:36

As the British Gas smart meters allow British Gas to send messages to its customers direct into their own homes, do you have any plans to sell this advertising space to third parties?

Is there a way of getting a feed of the energy consumption data from the Smart Meter into my home PC so I can monitor it myself?

I believe that your smart meters use Zigbee as the wireless transport, a technology for which there are at least a few theoretical exploits and rumours of real-world exploits as well. This wouldn't be a serious problem if you were just passively reading energy consumption but as you are planning to allow these smart meters to cut off energy supply then the risks raised due to drive-by exploits are significantly increased. What steps have you taken to ensure that your Zigbee wireless implementation is secure?

pussinwellyboots Tue 24-Sep-13 16:00:56

I'm interested i'm anything that helps me reduce energy use and save money. However seeing some if the negative comments on here I'd like to see answers to these concerns.

As a duel fuel consumer we switch our suppliers annually to get the best tariff. Would being signed up to a smart meter prevent me from doing this? Would I be tied into a lengthy contract with british gas able to raise prices?

Tianc Tue 24-Sep-13 17:29:54

Oh god that's awful, Tension. There was another occasion when BG put a man with learning disabilities on a prepay meter he didn't understand properly, and he ended up without gas all winter, but fortunately made it through.

Ofgem has highlighted that with smart meters, there will no longer be a need to visit premises to disconnect or switch to prepayment, but that "visiting the premises is often the only way vulnerability can be detected." (Interim guidance – remote disconnection and remote switching to prepayment)

But as of 2011 it had decided not to make visits to the premises mandatory and to rely primarily on self-regulation by the energy companies. (Smart Metering Spring Package - Addressing Consumer Protection Issues)

I can't say I'm impressed with the industry's implementation of this. According to their voluntary guidance, the The Energy UK Safety Net, I'm a vulnerable customer. But EDF had no idea of this at the time they royally mucked up my account - they never asked, and I'd no way of knowing such a category existed. Just as well that when they set debt collectors on me for their own admin cock-up, it wasn't during a period when I was too unwell to push back.

TensionWheelsCoolHeels Tue 24-Sep-13 19:33:43

Tianc that link you posted with the man being left without heat/hot water all winter is shocking. More so because his support worker said he was unable to explain his difficulties fully to BG - who still then put the onus on their customers to tell them about difficulties, completely ignoring that this man was unable to do that because if his difficulties.

I'm very keen to hear what this BG man has to say, to all the points raised here.

MadMonkeys Wed 25-Sep-13 08:13:14

How does the system ensure that power is not turned off for appliances where ut would ruin something, like a washing machine half way through a cycle? Or is it just linked to specific appliances where the power company think it won't matter?

What is the estimated cost saving to the power companies and how long will it take for the scheme to pay for itself?

VivaLeThrustBadger Wed 25-Sep-13 08:21:37

Wow. I'm so glad I'm not with British Gas.

Hopefully other companies won't bring them in.

How many £millions more profit do you expect Smart meters to make for British Gas?

HeatherMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 25-Sep-13 12:11:48

The Q&A is now closed. We will be sending a selection of 20 Qs over to Paul and we'll upload his answers on 2nd October.

PaulNickson Mon 07-Oct-13 16:55:58


What are they?

What are the benefits to me?

What is the cost to me?

Can you tell I know nothing about smart meters?

What are they?
Smart meters are like standard meters in that they record your energy consumption. They’ll replace your current gas and electricity meters, and unlike standard meters are clever because they come with a communications hub which can can communicate with your energy supplier to submit meter readings automatically and with an in-home display to show you the energy you’re using, as you use it and is cost in pounds and pence.
Watch video:

What is the cost to me?
Smart meters are installed as part of a free nationwide upgrade of the country’s energy infrastructure so when a customer has a smart meter installed there is no extra cost. Like we do with standard meters today, the smart meters form part of our operating costs which are reflected in customer’s bills.

What are the benefits to me?
Smart meters come with a handy smart energy monitor, which displays your energy use and its cost in pounds and pence. They automatically send meter readings to British Gas, putting an end to estimated bills and eliminating the need for manual meter readings. We also use these meter readings to give you a better understanding of your bill with a Smart Energy Report, which is a guide showing you how your energy use breaks down (for example how much you’re spending on things like heating or appliances) and where you might be able to make savings. The report also gives you personalised advice and energy efficiency tips based on your usage. In the near future, smart meters will also enable customers to choose and benefit from flexible time of use tariffs, communications with micro-generation solutions (such as solar panels) and connected control devices like smart plugs and remote heating.
Watch video:

PaulNickson Mon 07-Oct-13 17:04:21


Seeing as I have been able to monitor, and reduce, my energy use with a meter available free from the library, and by taking my readings every month, what is the point in installing a smart meter? They sound very sinister IMO. Just another way for big business to make bigger profits.

The smart metering system is made up of a gas smart meter, an electricity smart meter, a communications hub and a smart energy monitor and requires an installation from a trained, gas safe engineer.

The meter you got from the library is most probably an electricity monitor which clips on to your existing standard meter. They’re great in that they allow you to see your electricity use but they don’t show your gas use. Smart meters provide a real step change in enabling our customers to keep on top of their energy use in a simple, hassle-free way. They eliminate the need for manual meter readings, which can be very helpful as meters are often found in awkward locations. Also, the monitors currently available on the market only record and show your electricity use, whereas with smart meters you get “at a glance” visibility of gas as well as electricity, giving you a more comprehensive understanding of how much your energy is costing you.

There are also wider benefits as a smart grid will help us better forecast demand and account for a more efficient way of generating power and bringing it to your home, which means a better energy future for all of us. The data from the smart meter also allows British Gas to provide you with a personalised guide into your energy use called a Smart Energy Report and offers suggestions as to where you could save more energy and therefore money. This is available in both a paper version, which arrives a week after your bill and also online at any time. Our customers who have this have told me how useful they find this and have been able to save even more energy than with the smart meter on its own.

PaulNickson Mon 07-Oct-13 17:06:03


My existing meters are in a very awkward place and would cost a ridiculous amount to move. If I get a smart meter can I choose where it goes?

Does it have to be in the same place as the existing ones and if it does how often will access be required seeing as reading can be done remotely?

The smart meters would need to be fitted in the same location due to the incoming supply points for both gas and electricity. We can on occasion move them slightly at no cost but there would normally be a charge for moving them over longer distances. Once your home is upgraded to smart meters, energy consumption readings are retrieved automatically so there’s no need for a meter reader to attend and access the property. You can check how much energy you are using in pounds and pence as well as your meter readings through your smart energy monitor – which you can keep in a convenient place in your home – any time, so the need to get to your meters will be greatly reduced. When we fit your smart meters we will need the existing meters to be accessible of course. And we will come along to do a visual safety inspection every few years, something that is required by Ofgem.

PaulNickson Mon 07-Oct-13 17:08:01


Given that meter boxes are not completely sealed and are sometimes located in stupid positions at ground level, what will happen if the electronics of the smart meter are damaged by damp/frost? Will the meter shut down and stop providing gas/electricity to the property?

When we first moved in to our property it had a card gas meter which had gotten damp/frozen and stopped working. Until the meter was replaced, we had no gas supply - so no heating or hot water - for over 24 hours in the middle of winter!

If/when smart meters become more commonplace, will there be a 24 hour support line available to help in such circumstances? Currently the normal support lines close at 8pm and the emergency provision don't want to know unless there's a gas leak!

As with traditional meters, smart meters are covered by UK product specifications and EU safety legislation. This means that smart meters have undergone rigorous tests during the manufacturing process.

If the meters at your house are located outside, the smart meters will need to be housed in outside cabinets (common in most new builds in the last 10 years) or in a ground level meter box. Our Smart Energy Experts would inspect this location prior to installation to ensure water ingress is not an issue to the new smart meters. We would not fit smart meters if they were directly exposed to the elements, though they are designed to be safe and resilient in most environments. Like with the standard meters you have in your home at the moment, if a smart meter is faulty, we ask you to contact your energy supplier as soon as possible so they can fix the problem.

At British Gas we offer a 24 / 7 cover within British Gas Smart Metering and we can have one of our Smart Energy Experts with you day or night within a few hours, this is supported by a call centre, also operating 24 / 7.

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